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Methanol from CO2? Fuel of the future

Methanol could be the fuel of the future

Methanol could very well be a viable alternative fuel in the near future.  An international team of scientists from the Technical University of Denmark, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University in California have discovered a previously unknown nickel-gallium catalyst that changes carbon dioxide and hydrogen into methanol with less “side-products” than the usual catalyst.  Their complete findings were just published in a recent online edition of the journal Nature Chemistry.

Felix Studt, a staff scientist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, provided some background information.  He stated: “Methanol is processed in huge factories at very high pressures using hydrogen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from natural gas.”  The purpose of their work was to find something that could be used to produce “methanol from clean sources under low-pressure conditions while generating low amounts of carbon monoxide.”



Their first step was to learn everything about methanol synthesis.  Once they understood it at the molecular level, they were ready to move.  They started to search for a new catalyst with which they synthesize methanol at low pressures utilizing only carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

Through a series of tests they found that the compound nickel-gallium worked best.  It was at this point that the research team at the Technical University of Denmark took the reins.  The Danish scientists set themselves to the task of synthesizing gallium and nickel into “a solid catalyst.”  They next determined through a series of tests that nickel-gallium catalyst created more methanol than the more common copper-zinc-aluminum catalyst and resulted in significantly less carbon monoxide byproduct.

Ib Chorkendorff from the Technical University of Denmark explained: “You want to make methanol, not carbon monoxide. You also want a catalyst that is stable and does not decompose. The lab tests showed that nickel-gallium is, in fact, a very stable solid.”

Co-author Jens Norskov, a professor of chemical engineering at the Stanford University added: “Eventually we would also like to make higher alcohols, such as ethanol and propanol, which, unlike methanol, can be directly added to gasoline today.”  The team hopes to eventually “a large-scale manufacturing process” which would be both “non-polluting and carbon neutral using clean hydrogen”.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

About Will Phoenix

W. Scott Phoenix, B.A., B.S. was born in Hawaii, raised in Pennsylvania and resides in California. He has been a published writer since 1978. His work has appeared (under various names) in numerous places in print and online including Examiner.com. He is a single parent of three children and has also worked as an actor, singer and teacher. He has been employed by such publications as the Daily Collegian and the Los Angeles Times.